Free board, beer and Spanish

Shaney Hudson enjoys several free beers as she cuts costs to nothing on an extended South American sojourn.

WHAT A volunteer work program that offers free board, beer and Spanish lessons in exchange for hosting guests at one of South America's best-known hostels.

WHERE The Secret Garden is located in Quito, Ecuador.

WHY GO You'd be hard pressed to find a more affordable opportunity to live in one of South America's most unique cities.

Apart from activities on your days off, volunteers have little to no expenses. This makes the program the perfect option for those wanting to extend their trip to South America on a tight budget.

Run by an Australian-Ecuadorian couple, the hostel occupies a UNESCO heritage-listed building in historic San Blas.

The mainly residential area is considered a safer option than the Mariscal tourist district.

The communal nature of the Secret Garden makes it a good place to network with other travellers.

Guests and volunteers eat at a shared table and there are no distracting televisions, meaning you get to know your fellow travellers intimately. This gives valuable insights into the best places to visit across the continent, as well as finding people to travel with down the road. But you do have to earn your keep. Duties include making reservations, checking in guests, settling bills and serving food and drinks on the hostel's rooftop terrace.


Positions are arranged for a minimum of a month and, although some might baulk at the thought of being stuck in one place for so long, it's a great chance to adjust to Latin American life, language and culture.

Quito's attractions will keep you occupied when you are not working.

Safely stroll the puzzle of plazas, churches and museums of the Old Town near the hostel. Take the TeleferiQo cable car up the 2.5-kilometre slope of a dormant volcano to 4100 metres above the city for breathtaking views (and back down again when altitude sickness kicks in).

A trip to the Mitad del Mundo, which sits on the equator, allows you to jump between summer and winter.

The Otavalo weekend market, one of South America's biggest, is a must for those shopaholics who want to spend the money they have managed to save on alpaca fur jumpers and multi-coloured ponchos.

But one of the simplest reasons to go is the view. The rooftop reception and restaurant perches on a hill that looks over the Old Town's cobblestoned streets and cathedral spires all the way out to the Andean mountain range that protects the city.

There is no better place to kick back with a beer, indulge in a game of cards and watch the sun go down over the city.

FREE STUFF In exchange for working six days a week, the hostel offers a fairly sweet deal. Share accommodation in a cosy private apartment across the street from the hostel is free. Delicious home-cooked dinners are served in the restaurant every night. Unlimited internet access is available for volunteers.

Ten hours of private Spanish lessons are offered through the hostel's onsite Spanish school to help you learn the local lingo.

On top of this, big discounts are given to volunteers for trips arranged through the hostel's travel agency to places like the Galapagos and Amazon basin. But possibly the most intoxicating perk is the free alcohol.

Volunteers can consume all the whisky, wine and longneck bottles of Ecuador's national beer, Pilsener, they can drink.

But ready your liver; the hostel deserves its party reputation and volunteers are expected to lead the way to the bar each night.

BONUS The owners have opened a second hostel in the isolated village of Cotopaxi. The eco-oriented hostel offers volunteer positions in the local primary school. Full board is provided in return for teaching English five mornings a week.

With postcard views of a sleeping volcano, on the outskirts of a national park, this is a great chance to live in a rural community away from the modern world. Volunteer hosting positions, similar to those at the Quito branch, are available.

DETAILS Positions need to be arranged a few months in advance. Check out the hostel website at or email for more details on volunteer placements.